Pere Marquette River fishing report [8 May 2006]
B and I were both bone-tired from 2 long days of intense driftboat fishing on the Manistee River. We've fished with a guide probably 4 or 5 times now and it seems that we've fished ourselves into physical exhaustion each time. But I'm certainly not complaining. We had arranged to take Monday off from work to enjoy a leisurely return to civilian life - and it's a good thing we did.
Monday, we slept late, packed up our gear and cleared out of Schmidt's cabin by mid-morning. While we stood around in the parking area at the fly shop, we spotted our first Baltimore Oriole [Icterus galbula] of the season. That pretty voice and high contrast bright orange are impossible to miss - a good way to start off the day's adventure.
We'd decided to fish the Pere Marquette River at Green Cottage on our way back south. The weather was again bright, clear and sunny so we weren't expecting much in the way of fish action. We parked, rigged up our rods and hiked and waded well upstream to fish a section that we've come to know pretty well. There were still quite a few steelhead spawning, but we elected to leave them alone. We both planned to fish streamers back downstream along the edges and deeper water. I chose my 7-weight spey rod which is, perhaps, slight overkill for this stream, but I wanted my left hand to share some of the burden of casting to ease the responsibility of my sore right hand. This turned out to be a great decision.
I hiked upstream from B and we both started swinging streamers downstream. I started on a shady, deeper, wood-filled bend and I figured that, if I could stimulate some fish interest anywhere today, this might be the spot. I fished it pretty completely and interested no one however. I quickly fell into an effective rhythm with my spey rod and floating line and was landing my small white and yellow streamer within an inch or two of my target on cast after cast with only the occasional misfire. I don't think I've ever casted a spey rod this well before. Maybe it was the smaller river, or maybe my partially disabled hand required me to be a bit less intense about my casting. I could shoot my fly between or beneath overhanging branches and around midstream obstacles with confidence. When I did occasionally twirl my fly around a branch, I quickly untwirled it without problem. It was magical! I was having a great time even without catching fish.
I eventually leapfrogged downstream of B. She had caught a couple of small trout - on her ginger-colored woolly bugger I think. I had only enjoyed a little tug or two, nothing serious. I noticed a gentleman fishing downstream a ways from us and so slowed my pace so as not to rush him and hopefully continue without interrupting his plans. A few minutes later he decided to hike upstream of us, so we continued downstream to fish the long undulating riffle section. I continued to bang my streamer downstream, up close to the shady bank and submerged lumber, and then swung it out toward the middle with only slight stripping or twitching action. I can't put much action on the fly with a spey rod - it's a bit too long and cumbersome for that type of approach. I came to the dark run that I had watched the man below us fish. He reported catching a couple of little ones, so I didn't expect the rest of the fish population to still have an open mind about furred and feathered food substitutes - but I was certainly going to try these good-looking spots anyway. I methodically fished my way downstream, eyeing one particular darkish, fast spot with a small, barely submerged log over it. I exercised some restraint and didn't just zip down and fish it first. On about my third cast on that small log, I must've landed my little yellow streamer right in front of a hot little skipper steelhead. He immediately hit my streamer hard and launched himself 2 feet out of the water and out toward the middle of the stream. Woohoo! He appeared to be maybe a little 2- or 3-pound immature steelhead. I had him hooked pretty firmly as he shot out of the water twice more, flailing and splashing wildly and covering a lot of territory in a short amount of time. He calmed down for a second or two at the bottom of the swiftest portion of the flow so I took that 2-second opportunity to collect my thoughts and reel up some excess line. I kept the line tight, but nonetheless, this was my mistake. I think I should've probably continued to pressure him a bit more because he made one last strong underwater maneuver and my empty fly came springing back at me. Dang! B had been close enough to enjoy the whole thing too. He was a good fish.
We continued on downstream, fishing our streamers close to the bank and to in-stream structure. We caught a handful of little trout and wild steelhead smolts and watched a few big dark steelhead protecting their redds. We fished a few of the best runs more than once as we made our way back toward the parking area. I was still feeling like an accomplished, confident spey caster - very unusual for me. Snap-T upstream, D-loop, forward roll - again and again it landed exactly where I planned. Remarkable.
While B fished her last run of the day, I watched from the bank. We simultaneously heard an unusual 'chip-brrrr' bird voice just above and behind us. We turned and B spotted him first - a male Scarlet Tanager [Piranga olivacea]. Though they're not unusual Michigan birds, I hadn't seen one in many years. I was happy to end the day with a visit from one of the most beautiful birds in North America.
Fleece quotient: 0
Lost flies: just one
Wildlife sightings: an unidentified owl, Eastern Kingfishers, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager
Air temperature: 65-70 oF max
Water temperature: 58 oF
Injury report: none
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Yea!
Enjoyment grade for the trip: A+
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